Low-Elevation Limber Pine Seedlings Consistently Outperform High-Elevation Seedlings


Climate change is predicted to cause forest tree distributions to higher latitudes and elevations, which will require seedling recruitment beyond current forest boundaries. However, predicting the likelihood of successful plant establishment beyond current species’ ranges under changing climate is complicated by the interaction of genetic and environmental controls on seedling establishment. DOE-supported scientists at the University of California, Merced, transplanted germinated seedlings of limber pine (Pinus flexilis) from high- and low-elevation sites in common gardens along a gradient from subalpine forest into the alpine zone and examined differences in physiology and morphology between and among seed source sites. The results of the study suggest that tree seedlings germinating from lower-elevation seed consistently outperformed seedlings from higher-elevation seed, even above the current tree line. This suggests that inherent (e.g., genetic) differences between seed source populations could be an important factor affecting species range expansions or shifts due to climate change.


Reinhardt, K., C. Castanha, M. J. Germino, and L. M. Kueppers. 2011. “Ecophysiolgical Variations in Two Provenances of Pinus flexilis Seedlings across an Elevation Gradient from Forest to Alpine,” Tree Physiology 31, DOI:10.1093/treephys/tpr055.